Cognition & Reality

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Thinker

If one is having thoughts, that is to say experience, then there is a thinker who is not those thoughts, an experiencer who is not the experience.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

More Basic Goodness

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the goodness underneath areas of emotional conflict. Because the pain radiating from those spots connects directly to the trauma from which it originates,  unconscious fears and the defenses they foster are  immediately available, ready to brought to consciousness. For that reason, psychotherapy through catharsis need not always involve overt dramatics.

This past weekend, I attended one in a series of quarterly retreats to receive training in Relational Somatic Psychotherapy. In this instance, because one of my dogs was in pain, I chose to commute daily to the retreat, rendering the “retreat” concept partially moot. One of the nights, worried about my dog, I left without saying goodbye to anyone, and had barely reached my car before I regretted not having stepped into the kitchen as the others were lining up for dinner to announce my departure. Nevertheless, I drove down the hill, building up guilt the entire way.

Burning with upset when I got home, I tried to settle into a movie, but couldn’t quite. Late in the evening, I had a brief correspondence with a former member of the group, attempting to persuade him that he was welcome back. In an email to him, most of it a serious appraisal of the situation, I joked that perhaps he wasn’t qualified, after all, because during his absence the rest of us had “become enlightened.” His next email revealed he did not get the joke. That was the cue for me to switch from my guilt and frustration at not having said goodbye when I left the retreat to not having been clear with my correspondent.

I reported all of this to the group the next morning. After I was done, Michael Sieck, the group leader and also my individual psychotherapist, asked others what they had observed. As I watched, the three people in the couch across from where I was sitting began shaking their legs. I wondered why. Then one of them pointed out that I had been shaking my leg during my presentation. I was stunned for a moment, and then it made sense. It was as if the innocent, frightened self inside me had, without my conscious permission, been waving a signal flag.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

It’s All Good

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 8:50 am

In “The Wire,” the HBO miniseries widely considered the best TV drama ever, Stringer Bell, the big drug dealer’s chief henchman, played with impeccable menace and ghetto accent by the the British actor Idris Elba, often meets difficult situations with the expression, “It’s all good.” If that isn’t enough to give the idea of goodness even in the midst of evil its own bad reputation, I don’t know what is. Part of what makes “The Wire” so good, however, is that the wisdom it imparts is not sequestered in the light.

Chögyam Trungpa presented the idea of “basic goodness,” the recognition that every situation is an opening, a passage into spacious existence. In practice, this means that emotional pain indicates the doorway to  our own nature. It is the perfection of imperfection, owning our “mistakes” as tools for digging around in the unconscious.

Last night, one of my dachshunds, the charismatic, indefatigable Gretchen, pissed on the rug in the office of one of the other people in my suite, the actual leaseholder, “my suite-lord,” as I call him. He’s a great guy, and I had been glad to see him, but Gretchen’s pissing on his rug led to his pointing out, in apparently stored-up annoyance, a stain she had left on the carpet in our waiting room a year ago. I was thrown.

That was the Great Gift, because forced me to examine how and why this series of events had driven me into a dark corner, requiring me to explore that space: the fears I have about losing my literal and figurative place; my anger at Gretchen, knowing that she had flipped a switch and at the same time wishing she hadn’t; and of course my fears about being ineffective as a therapist, something that would be tested shortly by a client who was coming to me in an hour or so. Naturally, the client’s concerns are specifically about examining and owning her own dark spaces. I was therefore prepared to teach her and for her to teach me. And so it goes.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Coughing Up Conflict

Filed under: Relational Somatic Psychotherapy,Wilhelm Reich — drtone @ 1:30 pm

Saw again today the coughing that happens when a person tries to expel a deep conflict. It is as if the emotional content has formed a congested knot, and the reaction necessary to break it up is a hacking dry cough. I saw this in myself first, but have observed it in others and have heard accounts, as well. Interesting that this is not something that is widely recognized.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Britain, Baseball And Bloopers

Filed under: Film — drtone @ 12:10 pm

With the resources at their disposal, including both a research staff and the personnel on the set, why can’t they get it right in films?

I’m addicted to the “Foyle’s War” series of TV films, about the home front in on the south coast of England during World War II. In it, Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Christopher Foyle, a man of dry wit, unimpeachable integrity, and dogged determination, solves very English murders against the backdrop of the war years.

In the episode I most recently watched, “Invasion,” set in March of  1942, the US Army begins its “invasion” of the south coast. Murder ensues, as usual. In one scene, an American officer interacts with a Brit enraged because his farm has been requisitioned for an airfield. In the background, American enlisted men are playing “baseball”: A soldier is shown hitting a pitched ball with what appears to me, an admitted cricket dunce, to be a cricket swing rather than a baseball swing. The ball he hits appears to be a softball. As the scene progresses, another soldier pitches the ball to the batter overhand. OVERHAND. First of all, the Americans would have been playing hardball, not softball. Secondly, no one pitches a softball overhand. I thought that maybe the guy who plays the American officer was a Brit, but he’s not; he’s an American born in Burbank (i.e., Hollywood).With the advice of an American actor standing right there, the potential advice of American crew members or American tourists, and with the extensive research department necessary for mounting a historical drama that prides itself on accurately portraying the wartime milieu, how could the filmmakers get so wrong a couple of things that almost every American knows, even those who care nothing for sports? I’ll excuse the British extra’s  horrible swing, and I won’t even talk about the way the dialog in these films plays fast and loose with the nominative case.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Mind & Penis

Filed under: Perennial Philosophy,Radical Constructivism,Sex & Love — drtone @ 4:09 pm

I have been more than usually aware lately of what it means to say that I am not my mind. It’s is easy to confuse the contents of the mind, and the identity constructed therein with the human self. The reason for this is that the mind is so powerful, first because it is capable of so much, and second because it is capable of creating the illusion that I and it are the same. Piaget showed better than anyone that the mind–and I’m not speaking here of the brain–is an organ projected by and from the human body. It’s an organ not exactly the same as a physical organ, such as the liver or arm, but a mere part of the organism as a whole. I identify with my mind, but I also identify with my penis. I am not either one.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Asperger’s Scam

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Diagnosis,Psychomyths — drtone @ 10:52 am

Years ago, I spoke with a psychiatrist who was interested in promoting a diagnosis for kids like his son, who was very smart, but socially awkward. This was, like, five minutes before the advent of  “Asperger’s Syndrome.” We have all known kids who were unable to relate to others, had peculiar interests and found themselves picked on. In some contexts, the term for such an individual is “nerd” or “geek.” It’s one thing for peers to hang a label on a kid, but it’s quite another for the medical profession to apply its weight to categorizing someone who is strange or difficult. The last thing a socially awkward, possibly confused child needs is to be labeled by the powers that be. Yet that is exactly what society sanctions with the Asperger’s label. And of course, physicians are not satisfied with labeling, but must also classify. Therefore, “Asperger’s Syndrome” has been officially designated as an “autism-spectrum disorder,” implying that it has some underlying physiological basis, apart from the effects of socialization on an intelligent, clumsy child. In addition, on the basis of no evidence whatever, the “evidence” being that it “runs in families,” this “disorder” is presupposed to be “genetic.”

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Middle-Earth: Not A Workers’ Paradise

Filed under: Film — drtone @ 8:08 am

Watching all three parts of the movie version of “The Lord of the Rings” in the course of a week to celebrate my new A/V equipment, the implicit social commentary dismayed me. Written in the 1950s, the LOTR novels supposedly reflect JRR Tolkien’s experience of World War II, although the author denied that. In any case, the story assumes as good a monarchical society, in which kings have not only divine rights, but also magical powers. In the films, the social structure of the forces of good is highly stratified, not dissimilar from the British society in which Tolkien lived, which had entered a painful period of transition in the immediate post-war period. It’s been many years since I read the books, and there is therefore a danger of confusing the two, but I can only assume that the films, if anything, soft-pedal the evident class distinctions between, say, Sam and Frodo. Nevertheless, the agrarian societies of Middle-earth appear to depend on their class structure.

The evident charm with which the LOTR world is imbued caused me to wonder about the attractions of the sword-and-sorcery genre, which typically references the forms of the Middle Ages. It is almost inevitable that any sympathetic portrayal of a pre-industrial society will also be sympathetic to social arrangements that place one group above another based on accidents of birth. Much of the romance in these fantasies comes, moreover, from the more personal form that warfare takes. OTOH, there is the “fun” of a world in which people hack each other to death, rather than shooting each other or blowing each other up. OTOH, there is the comfort of a society in which everyone knows his or her place.

Tolkien, who was born in South Africa, rejected both racism and Nazi racialism. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to understand the conflict between the good beings of Middle-earth and the evil ones as essentially one between races. Regardless of Tolkien’s intentions, the racial divide is clear in Peter Jackson’s films. The orcs are horrible deformed non-humans or sub-humans, as are many of their allies. Jackson also manages to dress  the men who side with the Dark Lord as Arabs, with turbans, etc.

One further note: Although the production values of the LOTR films are generally the highest, there are numerous scenes in which it is clear that the filmmakers took the easy, cheap way out in portraying the hobbits and the Gimli the Dwarf. In many scenes, the hobbits are shot from the back clearly doubled by children. And when they are on horseback, one often sees only a Dwarf helmet or other headgear, suggesting the presence of a character, but without a face. I don’t remember noticing this when I first saw the films back in the early part of the decade, nor when I watched them as videos a few years later. Now it’s glaring and distracting.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

9-11 & Propaganda

Filed under: Propaganda — drtone @ 7:09 pm

The events of nine years ago today have spawned a whole world of propaganda, a cluster of misrepresentation that go unchallenged. I present here a couple of examples here to show how clever propagandists work by smuggling a set of assumptions into seemingly innocuous material. The scariest aspect of propaganda is that the more false the assumptions, the less subject to challenge the surface claims they support, and the deeper then sense of unease those assumptions produce.

Recently, a friend sent me a 9-11 memorial slide show with a first slide using the Twin Towers as the “11” in “9-11,” flanked by the words “Never Forget” and “Never Surrender.” Never surrender? Surrender to whom? The implicit assumption is that the events of 9-11 signal a struggle in which Americans face the prospect of “surrender.” Because there is no basis whatever to such a claim, it is not made explicitly, and because it is therefore implicit, it is all the more powerful, assuming the position of an unchallengeable truth. If the United States faces an enemy at all, it is one that poses some danger to a relatively small number of individuals–3000 persons died on 11 September 2001 in a country of 300 million. Billions of dollars were lost on that date in and in the aftermath. In spite of both types of loss, our country continues. The suggestion that we are in danger of  “surrendering” is so false that it does merit discussion. Therefore, it passes as fact.

During practically every sporting event, as happened today, an announcer thanks the members of our armed forces “for keeping us safe.” Safe from what? It could easily be that the number of troops dying “to keep us safe” far exceeds the number of Americans who would die in any terrorist attacks the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have prevented–if they’ve prevented any at all. The United States, the greatest military and economic power in history, is not in  danger. Any threat we experience is an invention promoted by propaganda, such as this ritual of “thanking our troops.” Likewise, we now hear “God Bless America,” admittedly a far better song, far easier to sing than our national anthem, during every 7th inning stretch and at various other times, for the express purpose of reminding us of 9-11 and of our fictitious “danger.”

Friday, 10 September 2010

Coaching Cowardice

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 8:10 pm

Part of the beauty of sport is that bad coaching decisions, really bad ones, bring swift retribution. I just watched Marshall University, which has never beaten in-state rival West Virginia, lose to them again through the sheer stupidity and cowardice of new Marshall head coach, Doc Holliday. If ever a coach deserved to lose a game, it was this game. Despite missing an opportunity to put the game away a few minutes earlier, when they fumbled the ball away near the WVU goal, Marshall was in a position to win the game 21-13 with about 3:30 to go. They had the ball 4th-and-1 on about the WVU 40. A first down all but wins the game, allowing Marshall to run time off the clock, while taking them a step closer to a game-clinching score. Holliday, who must have ball the size of grape seeds if he has any at all, chose to punt.

I knew, despite the immediate success of the punt, which was downed at the WVU 2 yard line, that WVU would score, make the two-point conversion to tie, and subsequently win the game in overtime. That is exactly what happened. West Virginia, led by their excellent quarterback, Geno Smith and their fine running  back, Noel Devine, marched down the field to score. They made it look easy, as they did the subsequent two-pointer. In overtime, West Virginia only managed a field goal on their first possession, theoretically giving Marshall an opportunity to redeem itself. Unable to move the ball, however, Marshall had to try what was for their kicker a long field goal of 40 yards. He missed, and Marshall’s opportunity to change the history of its football program died on the spot.

The infuriating aspect of this debacle is that Doc Holliday, far from demonstrating a gunfighter’s courage, chose the “safe” route in punting. Why did he did he do that? Because he had the headlines of the local paper floating in front of his eyes: “Marshall Goes For It. Loses.” The fact is that, had Marshall failed to get the one yard for the first with the ball on the opponent’s 40, WVU would still have had to go 60 yards for a TD and then convert for two. Now Holliday will see some headlines: “Holliday Chickens Out, Victory Slips Away.”

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